U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have facilitated the passage of senior Taliban leaders to Kabul for talks with President Hamid Karzai's government, signaling a shift by the U.S. to more active support of Afghan reconciliation efforts. The U.S. military has said in the past that Mr. Karzai's efforts to broker peace with the Taliban were premature. But a senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization official said the allied force was now offering direct help for preliminary peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which has strong influence in big swaths of the country. "We have indeed facilitated, to various degrees, the contacts between these senior Taliban members to the highest levels of the Afghan government," the NATO official said. Military officials in Washington caution against unrealistic expectations for a peace deal. Because the Taliban movement is so fractious, even if some senior leaders agreed to a cease fire, it would be nearly impossible to get all the militants fighting in Afghanistan to lay down their weapons. But beginning talks could be advantageous to all players in the Afghan war. For Mr. Karzai, peace talks portray him as a statesman and could help cement his position at the head of the government, especially after American forces leave. For the U.S., even a partial reconciliation could bring a quicker end to a troubled military campaign that is increasingly unpopular at home. President Barack Obama has vowed to begin bringing some American troops home in July of next year. That timetable has increased the pressure on the coalition to show progress in the war. To be sure, some Taliban members likely are using the peace talks as a delaying tactic in the hope it could undermine support for the allied military campaign. But senior U.S. officials have said that some factions are genuinely interested in ending the fight. The senior NATO official said the talks between Taliban leaders and the Afghan government occurred in Kabul. The official said without the blessing of the International Security and Assistance Forcethe formal name for the U.S.-led coalitionit would be "extremely difficult for a senior Taliban member to get to Kabul without being killed or captured." The official said the talks are preliminary and declined to say who on the Taliban side has participated in them. He declined to say whether the talks included officials reporting to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan. But he described the Taliban participants as high-level. Attempts were unsuccessful late Wednesday to reach representatives of the Taliban. Even as peace talks have picked up, so too has the war in Afghanistan and counterterror efforts in neighboring Pakistan. On Wednesday, a drone strike in the northwestern part of Pakistan killed some militants. In Afghanistan, six allied service members were killed in three separate incidents. Western officials said the Taliban officials participating in reconciliation talks are members of the Quetta Shura, the group's central decision-making body. It wasn't known whether they would be able to persuade large parts of the Taliban movement to adhere to any deal. Even if top Taliban leaders renounce their ties to al Qaeda, it would be difficult for them to guarantee that other militants will cut off their ties to the terrorist group that launched the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. "It is hard to tell if your negotiator could deliver," said Stephen Biddle, a military expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "Would the Quetta Shura Taliban follow the order of Mullah Omar to lay down arms if a midlevel Taliban disagree? And would the Haqqani network follow the lead of the Quetta Shura Taliban?" The Haqqani network, an al Qaeda-linked militant group based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, dominates the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. Senior military leaders believe the Haqqani movement is "irreconcilable." The Central Intelligence Agency has been stepping up attacks against the network both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although aligned with the Taliban, the Haqqanis are unlikely to follow direct orders from Mullah Omar, and the U.S., at least for now, is unlikely to be willing to facilitate any talks. In 2002, CIA-facilitated talks between the Haqqanis and the new Afghan government were scuttled after the U.S. military arrested a Haqqani leader participating in the talks. Confirmation that the U.S. has helped facilitate the Taliban's participation in the peace talks will likely be received positively in Pakistan, where officials have called on Washington to play a more open role in reconciliation talks. "America is in the talks, but has not revealed itself," a senior Pakistani official said Tuesday. "The U.S. must reveal its face, or it [the war] will get worse. There has to be U.S. ownership of the reconciliation talks." Mr. Karzai has demanded that the Taliban recognize the Afghan constitution and lay down arms. But some of his aides and other officials have suggested that the Afghan government would be willing to ease such "red lines" in an attempt to kick-start substantive negotiations. In return for such government concessions, the Taliban would be expected to abandon their demands for the immediate departure of all foreign forces as a precondition for talks, Afghan officials said. The U.S. government has long insisted that insurgents accept the Afghan constitution, which enshrines democratic freedoms and women's rights. Other international officials and Afghan policy makers say, however, that democratic mechanisms already exist for rewriting the constitution to make smaller concessions to the Taliban. NATO defense officials are gathering in Brussels this week and discussions include tentative plans to transition some districts to the control of the Afghan government. But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other officials voiced caution against turning over districts before the Afghan government can ensure the Taliban won't return. "I think that there are probably some [districts] that could be turned over probably even as we speak. But I think what's needed is a more strategic approach," Mr. Gates said. (WSJ)